From Disney to Guillermo del Toro, The Meg‘s journey has been an interesting one.
This weekend, The Meg finally arrives on the big screen after many years of false starts that date all the way back to the ’90s; at different points, Jan de Bont and Eli Roth had been attached to direct adaptations of author Steve Alten‘s Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror, published in 1997. It’s been a long road, and we chatted with Alten about that journey this week.
But first, long before movie talks, the seed for the novel was planted back in 1975 when Alten was a teenager and had an experience at the movie theater that changed his life forever.
“I was fifteen when JAWS hit theaters and that led me to read Benchley’s book,” Alten told us. “From there I read every true life Great White shark encounter. There was always a small blurb about its prehistoric cousin, Carcharodon Megalodon, usually accompanied by a black & white photo of 6 men poised in a set of Meg jaws, but nothing else was out there.”
That seed blossomed in Alten’s subconscious for twenty years while he was supporting his family and earning his bachelors, Masters and doctorate degree in education. Then, at 35 years old, it was time for Alten’s vision to be realized in the form of a novel that instantly begged for a film adaptation.
“In August of 1995 I read an article in TIME magazine about the Mariana Trench and hydrothermal vents, which anchored a food chain living in darkness at the bottom of the ocean, and I thought, I wonder if it’s scientifically feasible for that giant shark I read about years ago to still be alive down there,” Alten recalled. “I spent the next few weeks doing research in the library (no internet back then) and discovered it was feasible. So I set the goal that I would write the novel and worked on it every night from ten PM to 3 AM and on weekends.”
Before he even finished the novel, Disney (believe it or not) acquired the rights to Meg in 1996, but nothing ever came together over the next twenty years. Eventually, Alten reclaimed the rights and then Warner Bros. ultimately got hold of them in 2015, leading to the Jon Turteltaub-directed film that’s now in theaters. Needless to say, it’s been quite a long process.
“MEG was originally optioned to Disney’s Hollywood Pictures by my first manager, Ken Atchity and his associate Warren Zide,” Alten recalls. “They went through two subpar scripts and then the president of the studio was fired, which led to the rights being reverted back to me – because God-forbid the fired guy did something right and the movie turns out to be big hit…it’s all about ego. Can you imagine a sports franchise firing its GM and then the new GM coming in and trading all the team’s best players just because he didn’t draft them?”
Alten continued the long story…
“Nothing happened until 2004 when a friend, Nick Nunziata, who was the founder of CHUD (Cinematic Happenings Under Development) learned I had The Meg rights back. Nick was friendly with Guillermo Del Toro and Lloyd Levin (Hellboy) and they had me write a script. Director Jan de Bont (Twister) was added to the team, and we worked together on my script. The package was taken to New Line. But as the deal was being negotiated, the producers wanted more points off the back end (Larry Gordon, Lloyd’s partner, wanted a king’s ransom and the guy never attended one meeting). The deal was literally signed in the final hour before the studio’s deadline.
Then NL added more producers and Shane Salerno was hired to rewrite the script. Shane ignored the novel and wrote an entirely different story – basically a Moby Dick revenge story with a Japanese whaler chasing the shark. When I read the first draft, I felt ill because I knew this was a franchise-killer. I wrote six pages of notes and pointed out dozens of scientific flaws, but Shane never took a single piece of advice and his rewrite was even worse… and more expensive. By this time, the producers had fallen into two separate camps who would only talk to me (GDT got out ahead of that insanity). Then New Line’s foreign rights guy undersold the foreign markets (who really wanted MEG) and, as a result, they couldn’t get co-financing.
Mercifully, the rights reverted back to me in 2007. I fired everyone and optioned the rights to Belle Avery, (Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead) whose forte was in raising money for movies. Belle loved the book and we wrote a new script together. Seven years of travel, expenses, and hard work later and Belle and Gravity Pictures in China had the money to privately finance MEG. Warner Bros., joined forces and MEG rose from the abyss.”
So what’s next? Where would Alten like to see his franchise go from here?
“First and foremost, I hope the movie sparks interest in the books, which in turn fuels demand to make the entire series [into films],” Alten told us. “It’s very important that the studio draw storylines from the novels as they’ll lead the movies down a path that will stay fresh. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel here; the sequels are the map that would keep upping the ante.”
He continued, “I also hope the success of the movie will lead to both movies and TV series based on my other non-MEG novels. Belle Avery has already optioned The LOCH and one other novel for TV, and I am penning a script for my original comedy, DOG TRAINING THE AMERICAN MALE (published under the pen name L.A. Knight). The OMEGA PROJECT, GOLIATH, UNDISCLOSED, and GRIM REAPER: End of Days are unencumbered and are ripe for the big screen, and my biggest international seller is the Mayan Calendar doomsday series, The Mayan Testament (released as DOMAIN, RESURRECTION & PHOBOS in the US).”
If you’re interested in reading Alten’s work, you can learn more on SteveAlten.com. The latest installment in the Meg franchise, Meg: Generations, was just released this year.